The following is an excerpt from the Spring 2019 Issue of American Archaeology Magazine.

By Tamara Jager Stewart

COVER IMAGE: Wendorf poses in front of an excavation trench at a salvage project in New Mexico in the early 1950s.  |  Credit: Gail Wendorf

Since he was eight years old, Denver “Fred” Wendorf had a keen interest in archaeology, sparked by finding arrowheads and flint chips while roaming the cotton fields near his home in Terrell, Texas. In 1942, he began his studies in anthropology at the University of Arizona, and he went on to earn a Ph.D from Harvard eleven years later. But his studies were interrupted in 1943 when he was called up for active duty in World War II. He was severely wounded while leading his platoon on an assault in the Apennine Mountains of northern Italy, for which he was awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star.

Fred Wendorf spent a significant part of his career working in Africa. Here he’s seen working at a site in Nubia in 1963.  |  Credit: Gail Wendorf
The Fred Wendorf Information Commons was dedicated in 2004 at the SMU-in-Taos campus. According to his wife Christy Bednar, Wendorf was so surprised by this event he was, for once in his life, rendered “speechless.”  |  Credit: Christy Bednar


Wendorf visited London to give a speech in conjunction with his donation of a pottery collection to the British Museum. This picture was taken while Wendorf was given a behind the scenes tour of part of the museum.  |  Credit: Christy Bednar

He spent the next two years recovering in Army hospitals. His wound rendered his right arm unusable, but he was determined to overcome this limitation. “People who knew him realized that his experience fighting and being wounded in WWII really shaped his character,” said his wife Christy Bednar. “I saw this firsthand when Fred and I traveled to Tuscany to visit Riva Ridge, Iola (near the site where he was wounded,) and Cutigliano, where he worked with partisans.”

The war over, Wendorf returned to Arizona in 1948 to complete his bachelor’s degree in anthropology. While there, he helped excavate a large prehistoric pueblo during a field school directed by the renowned archaeologist Emil Haury. He considered this project to be an incredible opportunity, as he also worked alongside Alfred Vincent Kidder, another prominent archaeologist.


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